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Originally published Friday, January 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Espresso-machine price leaves some steaming

Hundreds of espresso heads have waited, some for years, to buy the first home-use espresso machine from La Marzocco, the Seattle company...

Seattle Times business reporters

Hundreds of espresso heads have waited, some for years, to buy the first home-use espresso machine from La Marzocco, the Seattle company that supplied Starbucks' espresso makers before the chain switched to automated machines.

The La Marzocco GS/3 finally hit the market late last year, and it's everything they expected except for the price. After telling customers for more than two years that the machine would cost $4,500, U.S. distributor Franke catapulted the price to $7,500.

Franke Coffee Systems North America, based in Seattle, figures 70 to 80 percent of the 247 people on its waiting list will walk.

"These people have just had it," Mike Lanz, Franke's director of sales, said of those who waited the longest. When he takes their calls, "a lot of them are being really mean about it, and I don't blame them."

The increase came largely because of the falling dollar, Lanz said. La Marzocco is based in Seattle, but its factory is in Florence, Italy.

Stainless-steel prices are up, too, and the machine comes with a service contract, he said.

Bill Crossland, the La Marzocco engineer who designed the GS/3, said it works without special plumbing or electrical adaptations.

"It's really intended as a light commercial machine — catering and restaurants — and it can be used in the home," Crossland said.

The machine is so good that Scott Morell, co-owner of Café Javasti in Seattle, stopped going to work every morning for coffee after Crossland lent him a GS/3 last fall.

"It really is as good as you can get at your coffee shop," Morell said. "I was kind of relieved it's so expensive, because there won't be as many people having one at home."

Mark Prince, a coffee-industry expert in Vancouver, B.C., who is senior editor of CoffeeGeek.com, says the GS/3 is the best machine for home use but "it's hard to swallow the $7,500 price."

That's especially true when the next-best home machine, the La Spaziale Vivaldi II, is just over $2,000, he said.

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The GS/3's biggest impact is the advances it drove for commercial machines, Prince said.

"It got other companies thinking about new ways to make better espresso machines."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Abercrombie & Fitch has closed its store at Seattle's University Village and will soon close another store at Redmond Town Center. H&M, a trendy clothing retailer from Sweden, will take its place at University Village. No word yet on which retailer will replace it in Redmond.

Abercrombie & Fitch, which targets men and women between 18 and 22 years old, is coming off a disappointing holiday-sales season. It reported a 1 percent decline in sales at stores open at least a year for the five-week period that ended Jan. 5. The retailer, based in New Albany, Ohio, still has stores in downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Tukwila and Lynnwood. — AM

Fred Meyer opened its first new store in three years this week on Pacific Highway South in Kent. The 170,000-square-foot store represents a $25 million investment, the Portland-based division of Kroger said. Fred Meyer operates 128 stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. — MA

Bartell Drugs will open a new store in downtown Burien on Monday at Redwood Plaza. Construction of Burien's Town Square project forced Bartell to move to a temporary site nearby last summer, the Seattle company said. Although Bartell has had several Burien locations in the past 50 years, the new store is the first built there specifically for the family-owned drugstore chain. — AM

Stretch Island Fruit in Grapeview, Mason, County, plans to invest $450,000 over the next three years to fund organic fruit research and education through the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Stretch Island has made fruit "leather" since 1976 and FruitaBü organic fruit snacks since 2005. — MA

A new winery in Walla Walla recently released its first three wines, all from the 2006 vintage. The labels for Wines of Substance, which cost $18 retail, are inspired by the periodic table of elements, with Cabernet Sauvignon represented as Cs, Merlot as Me and Malbec as Mc. The winery's owners are Jason Huntley and Jamie Brown, founding partners of Waters Winery, and Greg Harrington, a master sommelier who founded Gramercy Cellars with his wife in 2005. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Retail Report
Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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